Aroostook County Trails into the Future

[imgbelt img=noahhixonski530.jpg]Can “life-style” revitalize a rural county? Outdoor enthusiasts in Northern Maine are skiing a path of experimentation in community development.


[imgcontainer left] [img:sarapursuit275.jpg] [source]Sara Studebaker – Biathlete

Sara Studebaker, the top women’s biathlon competitor, charged in the Pursuit race Sunday, one meet in the World Cup of Biathlon, now skiing in rural Aroostook County, Maine.

You can tell how rural it is, since they call it “The County”: that’s Aroostook, the largest county east of the Mississippi, jutting up as the top hat of Maine.

This week, The County is hosting the World Cup in biathlon: combining cross-country skiing and riflery. Jay Field reports for NPR that the international event is expected to draw 35,000 spectators to northern Maine to watch the competitions in Presque Isle and Fort Kent.

Aroostook County has been potato-farming country. French and then Swedish immigrants settled here along the Canadian border. “The roads they built became impassable in winter in a region that averages 115 inches of snow,” writes David Sharp for AP.  “So the Swedes skied for transportation, for hunting, and for fun, just like they did back home.”

Sharp reports that snowmobiling had displaced skiing locally by the mid-1970s, but cross-country has come back strong. Andy Shepherd, a former L.L. Bean strategist, and others created the Maine Winter Sports Center in 1999, “to develop a new economic model for Northern Maine.”

With funding from the Libra Foundation, they set out to create “a model for the sustainability of rural communities through a skiing lifestyle.”

Landing the World Cup Biathlon competition is one measure of their success, but a more enduring one seems to be taking shape among The County’s youth.

Fort Kent, you can watch this weekend’s World Cup events streaming live February 10-13 on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.